5 Bath Time Tips for Families with Special Needs

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As caregivers to children and other family members with special needs, one of the most difficult tasks you have may be bathtime. While daily and weekly bathing is key to maintaining hygiene and keeping up a sense of cleanliness and confidence, it can be a real workout for caregivers and stressful even for your loved ones getting the bath. Don’t miss these helpful tips for simplifying bathtime:

Calm the space

Running water, bright lights, loud echoes off of tile walls . . . bathtime can overload the senses quickly, especially for kids with autism spectrum disorder and other sensory conditions. Bring calm and order to the space before your child enters the bath by going ahead and filling the tub and turning off the water, turning off the overhead light and plugging in a lamp instead, and laying down towels and blankets on the floor and walls to absorb some of the noise.

Use equipment

Depending on the size and needs of your loved one, the equipment you use to simplify bath and shower time may vary. Grab bars on shower walls can help your loved one with special needs support and pull themselves up. Shower chairs can make it easy to sit down in a standing shower or tub shower, and removable shower heads can simplify the task of washing and rinsing oneself off. Back scrubbers and loofahs can also come in handy for a loved that that likes to help bathe themselves. The best back scrubbers for people with disabilities and the elderly will have easy to grip handles, soft-textured bristles, and dual-sided heads.

Stick with a routine

A list of steps or routine you follow for bathtime can help provide structure and stress-relief to the whole activity. Doing the same steps in a row, i.e. play, wash hair, rinse hair, soap up, rinse off, towel, also gives your loved one a reassuring control in knowing “what is next” so there are no unpleasant surprises. As needed, talk through each step out loud and even use a countdown to the next step to help lessen the suspense.

Allow for plenty of time

While your routine for bathing may be the same each time, the schedule for the day may not be. Make sure to allow for plenty of time when it comes to bathing, drying, and getting dressed. Finishing a bath only to rush through drying off, putting on lotion, and getting dressed so you can zip out the door or rush through bedtime rituals will only make the situation more stressful and less worth looking forward to next time.

Sponge-bathe in between

Sometimes bathtime simply doesn’t happen, either because emergencies come up, or appointments and other events throw off your schedule. On those days where an entire bath routine isn’t feasible, simply sponge-bathe your loved one to keep them fresh and feeling clean.

  • Use dry shampoo spray or no-rinse shampoo caps on greasy, unwashed hair

  • Try rinse-free body wash (find in your pharmacy or online) to wipe down the body and not have to worry about rinsing

  • Rub lotion all over the body after drying just like you might after a regular shower
    Remember when buying sponge bath products to avoid chemicals that your loved one may react badly to


Additional Considerations

Getting your loved one in and out of a shower or tub may involve some heavy lifting on the part of the caregiver. When possible, using assistive devices like bath transfer chairs, lifting belts, and Hoyer lifts (with water-proof or quick dry bath slings) to help prevent common back aches and pains and even potential injuries involved with heavy lifting.

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